In the 2013 Christmas Special "The Time of the Doctor", the true nature of the First Question was revealed to be a message from the Time Lords, sent with the intention of having the Doctor respond with his name, thereby confirming that the Time Lords had found the correct universe to return to. Most of the pre-established aspects of the Question are explained at this time; it is the "First Question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight" because it was being transmitted throughout all of space and time, but encoded.

However, there still seems to be a fairly significant lack of continuity with regards to one aspect of the Question that was mentioned in the Series 6 finale, "The Wedding of River Song". In that episode, Dorium refers to it with all of the aforementioned monikers, but he also says that it is "the Question [the Doctor has] been running from all his life," and earlier in the episode, when Dorium first told him what it was (albeit off-screen), it sent the Doctor into a panic, presumably because he understood the consequences of him saying his name. However, he could not have know that his name would eventually be requested by the Time Lords, because at the time of Series 6, he still believed the Time Lords to be dead, and was genuinely surprised when he learned that they were attempting to contact him through a crack in time on Trenzalore.

So, how could the Doctor have understood the implications of the Question without having any knowledge of the Time Lords' actions in "The Time of the Doctor", and how does that tie in to him having run from the Question "all his life" (despite only having just learned of its existence in that very series)?

3 Answers 3


It seems to me that the question and the answer given to it at Trenazalore are being confused here. It is true that that Doctor's true name was used to open the Tardis, but the question, at least as it was understood by Dorium was "Doctor Who?" The Doctor wasn't running from the Trenzalore answer, because clearly he already knew his own name. He was running from the question. Although in some sense, his name is his identity. The special precautions he takes not to reveal it appear to be tied to his heritage as a Timelord.

The story of the Doctor is grounded in his shirking the responsibilities of life within Gallifreian society to travel the universe, stealing a time machine to do so. In doing so, he rejects his heritage, and starts running. He becomes involved in the problems of countless other species within the galaxy, and chooses an itinerant life.

What Dorium is therefore saying when he says that the Doctor has been running from the question all of his life is that the the Doctor's constant and relentless forward momentum without an overriding objective is intended to avoid the Doctor having to come to terms with his own self and his place within the universe. The answer that the Doctor is seeking to avoid is the answer to the broader question of who he is, rather than the narrow answer of his true name.

Of course, this may simply be Dorium's own perspective on the Doctor's actions. It is quite possible to interpret the Doctor's life path as having come about because he had a great deal of self-knowledge about who he was, and more importantly about who he wasn't. When faced with a choice between life on Gallifrey and escape, perhaps the Doctor already knows that he cannot be himself in the former.

From another perspective, it's a question that's never really answered anyway. Our experiences change us all, and who we are is a process, not a destination. In that sense "who are you" is a question every sentient being spends their entire life running from, because self-discovery is an inherently painful process. But now we're straying into the realms of philosophy.


Time is a wibbly-wobbbly ball of nonlinear... stuff. And Dorium, while passingly familiar with time travel, was neither a Time Lord nor even a highly competent companion. As usual with Doctor Who, however, there are several intriguing possibilities.

  • As with any good time travel series, Doctor Who shows us episodes where the back-and-forth tangle of four-dimensional galavanting is pushed left just a bit, and the timestream that was becomes something else. Before Clara's pleading shifted the climax of "The Time of the Doctor", Trenzalore really was going to be his factual actual death. And since such pleading occurred left of Clara and the G.I. being scattered throughout the Doctor's timeline, it's not implausible that one or the other told him of his death during his childhood.

  • Dorium, as an associate of the Headless Monks, was likely a passable believer in the Church of the Silence. Given what was revealed of their denomination's origin, it's likely that the Doctor's death and some details of the question were part of Dorium's faith. We can set aside multi-dimensional mapping of time traveller's subjective lifetimes, and simply interpret Dorium's claim as an assertion that the Doctor was running from what all mortals fear -- mortality.

  • Remember that the present reality is the result of the entire universe being devoured by the temporal cracks caused by an exploding TARDIS, whose demise was retroactively negated by the amplified regenerative power of a prison constructed to hold said TARDIS's Time Lord, for fear of the same explosion. The Doctor has subjectively been in that one regeneration since before the universe was created, and has been fleeing the cracks through which the question was asked his "entire" objective life.

  • Since being shunted from the universe at the end of the Last Great Time War, the Time Lords have displayed an amazing ability to go back and infect the lives of their most notable champions. Remember that the Master was retroactively driven insane by Rasillion in an attempt to use him to end all existence. It's not infeasable that the less-insane (and presumably better-equipped) Time Lords on Gallifrey could reach back and do the same to the Doctor.

All of the above can be true simultaneously, but the actual answer, of course, is that the line was just hyperbole on the part of the Dorium. Or, if you prefer a realist perspective, it was just an example of the disconnected spectacle storytelling that keeps Doctor Who watchable and not a mess of continuity.

  • You must be a lawyer or time traveler IRL because that 3rd bullet point is... wow!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 16:25

Simply put, His "running from the question" can be interpreted as him desperately avoiding sharing his real name with anyone.

That is what the run is all about. As the Carrionite mentions in "The Shakespeare Code",

Fascinating. There is no name. Why would a man hide his title in such despair?

This clearly indicates that The Doctor is hell bent upon not revealing his name, for which, he can go to any extent. We see this "extent" in "The Name of The Doctor", where he would almost let his friends die at the cost of not revealing his name.

  • "The Doctor is hell bent" ... this phrase has taken on a whole new meaning now.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 14:42
  • Indeed. We finally see what hell bent he really can get..
    – Stark07
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 14:30

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